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Where Are the Fans?

Written by: Peter Coolbaugh

OK, so we lost 2 of 3 to the Chowdahs. I am angry.

We are now 17-12 under Buck but 0-2 in September. I will change my usual game and team evaluation approach for a day and want to talk about something else: lack of fans in the stands.

When the Boston series peaks at less than 27,000 fans in a single game you know something is wrong. Currently the Orioles are 11 out of 14 in the AL in fan attendance at home games and only Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Florida, Oakland, and Cleveland are below us overall. As of today, we draw slightly over 21K fans to every home game in a venue that holds 48,000+. Less than 44% of our seats are full this season. My question is: what gives people?

Well there are a few schools of thought on this issue.

1) Bad economy. People just don't have extra money these days to come to a ballpark regularly even though Orioles tickets are cheaper than many other clubs. And if you can watch the games at home or listen to it on the radio, why bother?

2) Bad team. 13 consecutive losing seasons will take its toll on fan loyalty. Throw in the fact that the majority owner is quite disliked coast-to-coast and people continue to stay away.

3) National League. The placement of an NL team about 40 miles away stole a good number of fans from Camden Yards. Not that Washington is a great venue and the team itself is horrible, but all the DC residents and suburban folk now travel to Nats Park if they have the desire to see a game. Baltimore lost a good 20% minimum of the fans who used to come here up through 2004.

4) No legendary name. With the loss of Cal after the 2001 season, our attendance dropped. Having an immortal on the roster means that even if you are bad, people will come just to see that person before his career is over.

5) The Ravens. With the emergence of the Baltimore NFL team as a powerhouse, the balance of support has shifted to the Ravens since 2000. By June/July, with the Orioles in the basement on an annual basis, the focus usually shifts to NFL preseason and many Orioles fans close the books on baseball until the following spring.

So for a team that has been on the attendance decline for the last 9 years, is there any silver lining? Even with the arrival of Buck on 8/3, the gate attendance has not gone up. What can be done?

Winning is one thing. Win and people will come. Just ask the Phillies who have seen 100+ straight sell outs since they starting making the postseason on a regular basis. More W's usually equals more people. And with the reputation of Baltimore as an East Coast version of St. Louis, it should not take much to pack them in again.

The nostalgia of Camden Yards has clearly worn off. Getting 3 million plus fans per year has not happened since 2001 and probably will not until the team becomes competitive again. Those of us who remember the days when it was hard to get a seat long for a return to those fun seasons.

I have faith in Baltimore and its devoted fans. Though we are a small market it should not be long (fingers crossed) until our return to prominence is fulfilled. And I am sure the fans will be there as they were years ago.

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